ENTREPRENEURIAL ALUM’S BUSINESS ACUMEN TAKES COMPANY FROM BEDROOM TO BOARDROOM
Three years ago, when Michael Rixon ’98 started TSG Reporting out of his one-bedroom apartment, it wasn’t much more than a few clients, some office equipment, and several thousand squishy marketing toys.
Today, the company is one of the premier litigation services firms in the nation, providing law firms with stenographers and videographers for depositions and arbitration hearings, audio and video transcriptions, document imaging and scanning—“full litigation support,” says Rixon, now the company’s CEO.
While the former economic major’s creativity and business savvy played a major role in TSG’s rapid success, he doesn’t take all the credit. When Rixon left his first job after Haverford with the sports retailer AND 1 Basketball Company, he was looking to become part of a true “start-up” opportunity. As luck would have it, he was snowed in one evening that winter with his brother and some friends, one of whom was Rixon’s former camp counselor. At the time, this friend was a salesman about to leave a company that would later become TSG’s biggest rival.
“He took me through what he knew,” says Rixon. “He had the clients and the contacts, but couldn’t service their requests because of the antiquated way his former company did business. He needed a modern perspective for an industry stuck 20 years in the past, and I happened to be able to provide that vision.”
Rixon relocated from Philadelphia to New York and signed on with TSG, building its corporate infrastructure from scratch. Initial employees included a few loyal friends, among them his Haverford classmate Jonathan Hefler, currently the company’s vice president of marketing. Until 2004, nine of TSG’s staff members worked out of Rixon’s apartment, making use of all 1,100 square feet. “I had three desks in my bedroom and an industrial copier in my living room….”
TSG attracted its first clients through a few prior contacts in the legal community, positive word of mouth, and inventive marketing materials such as squeezable “stress toys.” “We ordered three or four thousand,” says Rixon, “and handed them out to everyone in my partner’s existing book of business.”
Within a year, TSG Reporting had become a multi-million dollar corporation and the number-one litigation services agency in New York, handling such high-profile cases as the World Trade Center liability litigations and the WorldCom and Polaroid bankruptcies. Today, the staff has been freed from the cramped confines of Rixon’s apartment, enjoying the privileges of sizeable office space in midtown Manhattan.
TSG isn’t the first company Rixon started (and, he says, it won’t be the last); he cut his entrepreneurial teeth in high school with some small Web-based businesses. After graduating from Haverford, he decided against pursuing his M.B.A., instead joining AND 1 as a sales assistant and working alongside several Haverford classmates. A month after joining the company, he became the assistant to the CEO. Within another month, he had been given his own department. In his five years with the company, he held 10 different positions, his final stop being vice president of apparel, mergers and acquisitions. He helped AND 1 grow from an $18-million small business to a $250-million multi-national corporation, second only to Nike.
“It was a small company, open to whoever was willing to take the reigns,” he says. “I ended up having a more complete knowledge of AND 1 than anyone else, and the biggest problems were brought to me to solve.” He was also able to put everything he’d learned as an economics major at Haverford into play.
“In essence, AND 1 was my business school,” he says.
Rixon offers this advice for future entrepreneurs of America: “Be a risk-taker, and realize that you won’t have the answer to everything all the time. And always put your ideas on paper—it helps you formulate, and turn your concept into an action plan.”
And, a two-bedroom apartment might be a good idea next time around.
— Brenna McBride